By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and Chevrolet recently recognized the achievements of eight students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. that participated in the 2017 Discover The Unexpected Journalism Fellowship program.
The class of 2017 DTU journalism fellows included: Alexa Imani Spencer and Noni Marshall from Howard University; Kelsey Jones and Taylor Burris from Spelman College; Jordan Fisher and Tiana Hunt from Clark Atlanta University; and Ayron Lewallen and Darrell Williams from Morehouse College.
The eight fellows were recently rewarded for their intrepid, diligent work in the Chevrolet-backed program that provides students from HBCUs scholarships and summer internships at NNPA member, Black-owned newspapers.
The aspiring journalists and media professionals worked with The Washington Informer, The Atlanta Voice, The Carolinian and The Louisiana Weekly to create print, digital and social media content for the publications.
“This is a joyous occasion,” said hip-hop pioneer MC Lyte, the national spokesperson for the DTU journalism program and the master of ceremonies for the award reception held at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, a trade group that represents over 200 Black-owned media companies, said that it’s vital that the Black community, especially Black publishers educate young people about the the importance of the Black Press.
“We have a responsibility of raising a new generation of freedom fighters and we have, over the past year, discovered the unexpected,” said Chavis, noting that the 190 year-old Black Press has enjoyed a partnership with General Motors, the automakers behind the Chevrolet brand, that has lasted more than 40 years.
Chevrolet’s Diversity Marketing Manager Michelle Alexander said that the company has vowed to continue the DTU journalism program.
NNPA Chairman Dorothy Leavell told the recipients how proud she was of their efforts and stressed the importance of the Black Press and noted how vital young journalists are to its mission.
“We need to create a space for them to tell their stories,” Leavell said.
But, the day belonged to the up and coming journalists.
Jordan Fisher and Kelsey Jones received the Social Media Maven Award for their outstanding work on various digital platforms.
“Being part of the DTU fellowship program taught me a great deal about social media and journalism,” Fisher said. “Breaking news, catastrophes…will be shown all over the world and with this power, we have a responsibility to uplift our communities.”
One of Fisher’s most memorable stories for The Atlanta Voice was an interview with a sea lion trainer, after a video of a 700-pound sea lion pulling a little girl into the water off a pier in Vancouver, British Columbia went viral.
“I learned authenticity can go hand-in-hand with passion,” said Kelsey Jones, who received a lot of attention for her Atlanta Voice pieces on West End development near downtown Atlanta.
Noni Marshall and Alexa Imani Spencer both received the State of the Union Award at the reception for their work covering politics and other topics for The Washington Informer.
“The people I’ve connected with not only made me a better woman, but a better journalist,” said Marshall, who teamed with Alexa to write several exciting stories including a feature on how “News One Now” host Roland Martin had issued a call to action to address the critical financial state of HBCUs.
“I was surprised when I was accepted into the program,” Spencer said. “The truth is, I didn’t have much confidence in my journalism, but that changed on ‘Day 1,’” she said, noting that Denise Rolark Barnes, the publisher of the Informer, assigned her a story about a young man who had been accepted to 14 of the 16 colleges he’d applied for.
Washington Informer Editor D. Kevin McNeir pushed Alexa late into the night to turn the story in, she said, adding that, “the article was published the next morning on the front page.”
The Live on Air Award went to Tiana Hunt and Darrell Williams.
Hunt penned a story in August in The Louisiana Weekly about Williams’ dreams of being a creative director, while one of his signature features was about the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, which he said should be in every neighborhood across the country.
“I’ve discovered so much of the unexpected with great mentors and great people,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, Hunt said the DTU journalism program helped her to see how much hard work and dedication pays off.
“I can honestly say, I ‘discovered the unexpected,’” Hunt said.
Ayron Lewallen and Taylor Burris received the Entertainment Reporting Award for their work interviewing celebrities and other high-profile individuals.
“This program taught me that being a journalist is more than interviewing celebrities,” said Burris, who wrote a fascinating story for The Carolinian about Nita Key Enrichment, the first Black music enrichment company in North Carolina. “I’ve become stronger than ever and it means that I have to be prepared to advocate for my community.”
Lewallen, who blogged for The Carolinian about how his Detroit immersion trip changed his mindset, said he had always been big on ideas, but being a DTU fellow was about more than just big ideas.
“I had to dig deep,” said Lewallen. “I will continue my path toward becoming a broadcast journalist and I will never forget what everyone in this program has taught me.”